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too ready to hear, we offer “the sacrifice of fools,” Eccles. v. 1. What are the feet of the soul, but our affections? If these be not set right, we may easily stumble, and wrench at God's threshold. Rash actions can never hope to pros. per; as therefore to every great work, so to this, there is a due preparation required ; and this must be done by meditation first, then by prayer. Our meditation first sequesters the heart from the world, and shakes off those distracting thoughts, which may carry us away from these better things; for what room is there for God, where the world hath taken up the lodging? "We cannot serve God and mammon.” Then, secondly, it seizes upon the heart for God, fixing our thoughts upon the great business we go about; recalling the greatness of that Majesty into whose presence we enter, and the main importance of the service we are undertaking; and examining our intentions wherewith we address ourselves to the work intended. I am now going to God's house; wherefore do I go thither? Is it to see, or to be seen ? Is it to satisfy my own curiosity in hearing what the preacher will say? Is it to satisfy the law, that requires my presence ? Is it to please others' cyes, or to avoid their censures ? Is it for fashion? Is it for recreation ? Or is it with a sincere desire to do my soul good, in gaining more knowledge, in quickening my affections? Is it in a desire to approve myself to my God, in the conscience of my humble obedience to his command, and my holy attendance upon his ordinance? And where we find our ends amiss, chiding and rectifying our obliquities; where just and right, prosecuting them towards a further perfection.
Which that it may be done, our meditation must be seconded by our prayers. It is an unholy rudeness to press into the presence of that God whom we have not invoked. Our prayer must be, that God would yet more prepare us for the work, and sanctify us to it, and bless us in it; that he would remove our sins, that he would send down his Spirit into our hearts, which may enable us to this great service; that he would bless the preacher in the delivery of his sacred message; that he would be pleased to direct his messenger's tongue to the meeting with our necessities; that he would free our hearts from all prejudices and distractions; that he would keep off all temptations, which might hinder the good entertainment and success of his blessed word. Finally, that he would make us truly teachable, and his ordinance the power of God to our salvation.
In the act of hearing, devotion calls us to reverence, attention, application. Reverence to that great God, who speaks to us by the mouth of a weak man; for in what is spoken from God's chair, agreeable to the Scriptures, the sound is man's; the substance of the message is God's. Even an Eglon, when he hears of a message from God, riseth out of his seat, Judg. iii. 20. It was not St. Paul's condition only, but of all his faithful servants, to whom he hath committed the word of reconciliation; they are ambassadors for Christ; as if God did beseech us by them, they pray us in Christ's stead to be reconciled to God, 2 Cor. v. 20. The embassy is not the bearer's, but the king's; and if we do not acknowledge the great King of heaven, in the voice of the gospel, we cannot but incur a contempt.
When, therefore, we see God's messenger in his pulpit, our eye looks at him, as if it said, with Cornelius, “ We are all here present before God to hear all things that are commanded thee of God,” Acts x. 33; whence cannot but follow, together with an awful disposition of mind, a reverent deportment of the body; which admits not a wild and roving eye, a drowsy head, a chatting tongue, a rude and indecent posture; but composes itself to such a situation as may best befit a pious soul in so religious an employment. Neither do we come as authorized judges to sit upon the preacher, but as humble disciples to sit at his feet.
XXIV. Reverence cannot but draw on attention. We need not be bidden to hang on the lips of him whom we honour. It is the charge of the Spirit, “ Let him that hath an ear, hear.” Every one hath not an ear; and of those that have an ear, every one heareth not. The soul hath an ear as well as the body; if both these ears do not meet together in one act, there is no hearing. Common experience tells us, that when the mind is otherwise taken up, we do no more hear what a man says than if we had been deaf, or he silent. Hence is that first request of Abigail to David, “ Let thine handmaid speak to thine ears, and hear the words of thine handmaid," 1 Sam. XXV. 24; and Job so importunately urgeth his friends, “ Hear diligently my speech, and my declaration with your ears,” Job xiii. 17. The outward ear may be open, and the inward shut; if way be not made through both, we are deaf to spiritual things. “ Mine ear hast thou bored, or digged,” Psa. xl. 6, saith the psalmist: the Vulgate reads it, My ears hast thou perfected. Surely our ears are grown
up with flesh; there is no passage for a perfect hearing of the voice of God, till he have made it by a spiritual perforation.
And now that the ear is made capable of good counsel, it doth as gladly receive it; taking in every good lesson, and longing for the next. Like unto the dry and chapped earth, which soaks in every silver drop that falls from the clouds, and thirsteth for more; not suffering any of that precious liquor to fall beside it.
XXV. Neither doth the devout man care to satisfy his curiosity, as hearing only that he might hear; but reduces all things to a saving use, bringing all he hears home to his heart, by a self-reflecting application ; like a practiser of the art of memory, referring every thing to its proper place. If it be matter of comfort, there is for my sick-bed, there is for my outward losses, there for my drooping under afflictions, there for the sense of my spiritual desertions. If matter of doctrine, there is for my settlement in such a truth, there for the conviction of such an error, there for my direction in such a practice. If matter of reproof, he doth not point at his neighbour, but deeply chargeth himself. This meets with my dead-heartedness and security, this with my worldly-mindedness, this with my self-love and flattery of mine own estate, this with my uncharitable censoriousness, this with my fool. ish pride of heart, this with my hypocrisy, this with my neglect of God's services and my duty. Thus, in all the variety of the holy passages of the sermon, the devout mind is taken up with digesting what it hears, and working itself to a secret improvement of all the good counsel that is delivered; neither is it ever more busy than when
it sits still at the feet of Christ. I cannot, therefore, approve the practice (which yet I see commonly received) of those who think it no small argument of their devotion, to spend their time of hearing in writing large notes from the mouth of the preacher; which, however it may be a help for memory in the future, yet cannot, as I conceive, but be some prejudice to our present edification; neither can the brain get so much hereby as the heart loseth. If it be said, that by this means an opportunity is given for a full rumination of wholesome doctrines afterwards, I yield it; but withal, I must say, that our after-thoughts can never do the work so effectually as when the lively voice sounds in our ears, and beats upon our heart; but herein I submit my opinion to better judgments.
XXVI. The food that is received into the soul by the ear, is afterwards chewed in the mouth thereof by memory, concocted in the stomach by meditation, and dispersed into the parts by conference and practice. True devotion finds the greatest part of the work behind. It was a just answer ibat John Gerson * reports, given by a Frenchman, who being asked by one of his neighbours if the sermon were done; No, saith he, it is said, but it is not done, neither will be, I fear, in haste. What are we the better, if we hear and remember not; if we be such auditors as the Jews were wont to call themselves, that retain no moisture that is poured into them? What the better, if we remember, but think not seriously of what we hear; or if we practise not carefully what we think of ? Not that which we hear is our own, but that which we carry away: although all memories
* Serm. ad Eccles. cautelam.